1 May 2016

Review: COMFORT ZONE, Lindsay Tanner

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 701 KB
  • Print Length: 213 pages
  • Publisher: Scribe (January 27, 2016)
  • Publication Date: January 27, 2016
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B019MH8OKE
Synopsis  (Amazon)

An astute novel about Australian racism — and about humanity prevailing over entrenched prejudice.
 Jack Van Duyn is stuck in his comfort zone. A pot-bellied, round-shouldered cabbie in his mid-fifties, Jack lives alone, has few friends, and gets very little out of life. He has a negative opinion of most other people — especially refugees, bankers, politicians, and welfare bludgers.

Jack doesn’t know it, but his life is about to be turned upside down. A minor altercation in a kids’ playground at an inner-city high-rise estate catapults Jack into a whirlpool of drug-dealing, ASIO intrigue, international piracy, and criminal violence. And he can’t escape, because he doesn’t want to: he’s fallen in love with the beautiful Somali single mum who’s at the centre of it all.

The ensuing turmoil propels Jack out of his comfort zone, forcing him to confront some unpleasant truths about himself. After decades in the doldrums, can he rise to the challenge when the heat’s on?

Drawing on his many years of experience as a politician at the centre of bitter debates about refugees and multiculturalism, Lindsay Tanner explores the emotional landscape on which these issues are played out. As we follow Jack’s hair-raising journey from crisis to crisis, a powerful plea for tolerance and understanding unfolds — directed at both sides of Australia’s great cultural divide.

My take

What this novel points out very clearly is how very rarely most of us do things outside our comfort zone. Actually our hero Jack Van Duyn wouldn't have got outside his if it hadn't been for his passenger who really dragged him into it. They intervened when some older kids were attacking some young Somali children in a playground. Jack finds himself attracted to the boy's mother and going out of his way to help her. But that lands him in a heap of trouble.

There is a comic vein to this novel but at the same time a serious look at some contemporary Australian social issues. That is where the author's knowledge and awareness stand him in good stead.

Jack finds himself hunted by ASIO who say he is consorting with a possible terrorist, as well as being potentially involved in drug running. He is very attracted to the young Somali widow and finds himself going out of his way to help her. By the end of the novel he recognises that his life has been changed.

Jack also knows some interesting "fixers" who help solve his problems. To use a common idiom, Jack isn't the sharpest knife in the box, but he is a nice man, even if he is a bit of a slob. I found his character growing and my sympathy for him expanding as the novel developed.

I am not sure the novel is really crime fiction, but maybe it is on the outer edges of the genre - crimes are certainly committed. Part of the story is about how our refugee populations bring with them problems that can't simply be solved by the act of coming to a new country.

A pretty quick and interesting read.

My rating: 4.2

About the author
Lindsay Tanner was the minister for finance and deregulation in the Rudd-Gillard governments and held the seat of Melbourne for the ALP from 1993 to 2010. Having retired from politics at the 2010 federal election, he is now special adviser to Lazard Australia, and is a vice-chancellor's fellow and adjunct professor at Victoria University. Mr Tanner is the author of several previous books, including Politics with Purpose (2012) and Sideshow (2011), also published by Scribe.

Crime Fiction Pick of the Month April 2016

Crime Fiction Pick of the Month 2016
Many crime fiction bloggers write a summary post at the end of each month listing what they've read, and some, like me, even go as far as naming their pick of the month.

This meme is an attempt to aggregate those summary posts.
It is an invitation to you to write your own summary post for April 2016, identify your crime fiction best read of the month, and add your post's URL to the Mr Linky below.
If Mr Linky does not appear for you, leave the URL in a comment and I will add it myself.

You can list all the books you've read in the past month on your post, even if some of them are not crime fiction, but I'd like you to nominate your crime fiction pick of the month.

That will be what you will list in Mr Linky too -
ROSEANNA, Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo - MiP (or Kerrie)

You are welcome to use the image on your post and it would be great if you could link your post back to this post on MYSTERIES in PARADISE.

30 April 2016

Review: LAST WILL, Liza Marklund

  • this edition published by Atria Books 2012
  • English translation by Neil Smith 2011
  • Originally published in Swedish 2006
  • ISBN 978-1-4516-0692-8
  • source: my local library
  • 399 pages
Synopsis (Random House Books Australia)

A frosty December night in Stockholm.
A thousand guests attend the prestigious Nobel Prizewinners' dinner.
The evening is one of prestige and glamour.
Until two shots are fired on the dance floor.

Crime reporter Annika Bengtzon is there, covering the event for the Evening Post. As the police realize she caught a glimpse of the suspect, she is far more interested in getting back to the newsroom.

But as more brutal murders follow, Annika finds herself in the middle of something far larger than she had anticipated. No longer just a reporter but also a vulnerable key witness, she begins to close up the gaps linking these crimes, just as the suspect starts closing the net on Annika herself.

My Take

I have only read one novel by Lisa Marklund earlier: 4.5, THE BOMBER and my memory is pretty vague.

So, as needs must, this novel worked pretty well for me as a stand-alone, although it was apparent there was quite a back story involving Annika's relationship with the police Inspector Q. This novel is mid way in the series.

Annika was only meters away from the assassin who fired the shots at the Nobel Prizewinner's dinner and killed a scientist. Because she can therefore give them valuable information about the person who fired the shots, the police put a ban on her releasing information. She assists them in creating an identikit picture but is put on idefinite leave from her newspaper as it becomes apparent that none of her work can be published. Her leave, on full pay, coincides with an office reorganisation, and her family's move to a new house in the country leads to conflict with a very crusty neighbour.

The biggest danger comes though when the assassin realises that Annika can identify her. Although Annika can't get anything published she continues to investigate the case, trying to find out why the original victim was murdered.

The main story runs parallel to information about Alfred Nobel himself, and disagreements among scientists in particular about whether the prizes actually fulfil the intentions of Nobel's final will.

Very readable.

My rating: 4.5

The Annika Bengston series (Fantastic Fiction)
1. Studio Sex (2002)
     aka Studio 69 / Exposed
2. Paradise (2000)
     aka Vanished
3. Prime Time (2002)
4. The Bomber (2001)
5. Red Wolf (2003)
6. Last Will (2012)
7. Lifetime (2013)
8. The Long Shadow (2013)
9. Borderline (2014)
10. Without a Trace (2015)
11. The Final Word (2016)

27 April 2016

Review: DYING FOR A TASTE, Leslie Karst

  • source: review copy from Netgalley
  • File Size: 1029 KB
  • Print Length: 306 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1629535974
  • Publisher: Crooked Lane Books (April 12, 2016)
  • Publication Date: April 12, 2016
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • Available from Amazon for Kindle
Synopsis (Net Galley)
After losing her mother to cancer, Sally Solari quits her job as an attorney to help her dad run his old-style Italian eatery in Santa Cruz, California. But managing the front of the house is far from her dream job.

Then in a sudden twist her Aunt Letta is found murdered in her own restaurant, and Sally is the only one who can keep the place running. But when her sous chef is accused of the crime, and she finds herself suddenly short-staffed, Sally must delve into the world of sustainable farming—not to mention a few family secrets--to help him clear his name and catch the true culprit before her timer runs out.

Leslie Karst serves a platter of intrigue in her stirring and satisfying debut Dying for a Taste, which is sure to become a new favorite of food mystery fans. 

My take

There is a lot about her Aunt Letta that Sally Solari doesn't know, in fact they weren't even really all that close, and it comes a great surprise to her when she inherits her aunt's restaurant. Aunt Letta's murder was quite vicious, but surely no-one hated her that much? And then Sally finds evidence that Letta had been being threatened. She is galvanised into action when, in the absence of any other suspects, the police arrest the head cook of her new restaurant.

Towards the end I felt that there were actually too many suspects and that blurred the plot lines a bit. Ultimately though quite a satisfying read, with a few recipes in the final pages to stimulate your culinary juices.

My rating: 4.2

About the author
Originally from Southern California, Leslie Karst moved north to attend UC Santa Cruz (home of the Fighting Banana Slugs), and after graduation, parlayed her degree in English literature into employment waiting tables and singing in a new wave rock and roll band. Exciting though this life was, she eventually decided she was ready for a "real" job, and ended up at Stanford Law School.

For the next twenty years Leslie worked as the research and appellate attorney for Santa Cruz's largest civil law firm. During this time, she discovered a passion for food and cooking, and so once more returned to school--this time to earn a degree in Culinary Arts.

Now retired from the law, Leslie spends her time cooking, singing alto in the local community chorus, gardening, cycling, and of course writing. She and her wife and their Jack Russell mix, Ziggy, split their time between Santa Cruz and Hilo, Hawai'i.

24 April 2016

Review: A DARK AND TWISTED TIDE, Sharon Bolton (S.J. Bolton)

  • this edition published by Bantam Press 2014
  • ISBN: 9780593069196
  • 444 pages
  • source: my local library
  • #4 Lacey Flint series
  • author website: http://www.sharonbolton.com/
Synopsis ( author website)

Police sergeant Lacey Flint thinks she’s safe.

She thinks her new job with the river police, and her new life on a house boat, will keep her away from danger. But she’s wrong.

When Lacey discovers a body in the water, and sinister offerings appear in her home, she fears someone is trying to expose her darkest secret.

And the river is the last place she should be.

My Take

I'm sure I have read an S.J. Bolton title before but not in the history of this blog apparently, hence the "new-to-me" label.

So I broke into this series so to speak and there were references to events in Lacey Flint's past that I really needed a bit more background to.

Nevertheless the novel really worked quite well for me. Plenty of tension. References to recent political events such as the war in Afghanistan, people smuggling, IVF etc. The setting is the River Thames and Lacey Flint has come to work with the River Police. She finds a body floating in the river near her home, wrapped in burial cloths. It links with an event in the past where she was nearly drowned, when her team apprehended a boat smuggling a woman late at night. Parts of the story are also told from the point of view of a couple of the women who have been brought in from overseas. It is unclear for most of the story why these women are being brought into Britain but some of them are turning up as corpse.

My rating: 4.5

About the author

Sharon Bolton's previous novels have been published under the title of S.J. Bolton. I am not sure what has prompted the name change - a perhaps a desire to be separated on the shelves from other SJ crime fiction authors such as S.J. Watson and S.J. Rozan.
In 2014 she was awarded a CWA Dagger in the Library.

23 April 2016

Review: THE BARRAKEE MYSTERY, Arthur Upfield - audio book

  • First published in 1929, #1 in the Napoleon Bonaparte titles
  • Available from Audible
  • Narrated by: Peter Hosking
  • Length: 8 hrs and 16 mins 
  • Unabridged Audiobook
Synopsis (Audible)

Why was the redoubtable King Henry, an aborigine from Western Australia, killed during a thunderstorm in New South Wales? What was the feud that led to murder after nineteen long years had passed? And who was the woman who saw the murder and kept silent?

This first story of Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte, the half-aborigine detective, takes him to a sheep station in the Darling River bush country where he encounters those problems he understands so well... mixed blood and divided loyalties.

PLEASE NOTE: Part of the appeal of Arthur Upfield's stories lies in their authentic portrayal of many aspects of outback Australian life in the 1930s and through into the 1950s. These books reflect and depict the attitudes and ways of speech of that era particularly with regard to Aborigines and to women. In reproducing this book the publisher does not endorse the attitudes or opinions they express.

©1965 First published 1929 by Hutchinson and Company Ltd. © Bonaparte Holdings Pty Ltd, 1965. (P)2015 Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd

My Take

It would be easy to focus in a review of  THE BARRAKEE MYSTERY on the politically incorrect (by today's standards anyway) attitudes and terminology. But as the publisher says, they reflected the attitudes of the times.

Peter Hosking does a wonderful job of the narration and that allowed me to reflect on other things: the descriptions of the outback and the toughness required of those who chose to live there. I was struck also by how the novel reflected Australia's bush heritage.

Born in England in 1890, Upfield moved to Australia in 1911 and fought with the Australian military during the First World War. Following his war service, he travelled extensively throughout Australia, obtaining a knowledge of Australian Aboriginal culture that he would later use in his written works. In addition to writing detective fiction, Upfield was a member of the Australian Geological Society and was involved in numerous scientific expeditions. (Wikipedia)

The bush heritage that I am reminded of were the works of Banjo Paterson and particularly the stories of Henry Lawson, even SUCH IS LIFE by Joseph Furphy.  In later novels Upfield wasn't as expansive in his descriptions of the country, and focussed more on detective/crime elements, but there are a lot of mini-stories in THE BARRAKEE MYSTERY. There is a mystery element in the novel too, well structured, but not really all that difficult to solve.

Bony reminds me a little of Hercules Poirot: not only does he believe in his own superior detection skills, but he also dispenses his own form of justice.

My rating: 4.4

I've also reviewed DEATH OF A SWAGMAN 


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